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The U.S.-Oman Free Trade Agreement

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Location: Washington, DC


THE U.S.-OMAN FREE TRADE AGREEMENT

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Mr. RYAN of Wisconsin. I thank the gentleman for yielding. I just want to congratulate the gentleman for all his leadership on this issue. And I too want to come to the floor of the House of Representatives to talk about how important this Oman trade agreement really is and how it fits in the whole scheme of things with respect to our strategy for the Middle East.

Now, a lot of people are paying attention to the Middle East. We watched over the weekend all of the awful things that are happening in Israel and southern Lebanon, and we realize that if we are to win the war on terror, we have to look at a short-term strategy and a long-term strategy. And when I think about the things we want to accomplish with the Middle East and with moderate Arab countries, democracy. Democracy and freedom and individual rights are the ultimate, the ultimate weapon against terrorism. When a young person grows up into a closed society with no opportunity to reach his or her destiny or his aspirations or dreams, they are going to be more susceptible to the likes of al Qaeda. They are going to be more susceptible to joining into some kind of a perverted ideology that can convince a young man or a young woman to strap on a suicide belt and go into a pizza parlor and blow themselves up. But people growing up in free societies, in democracies, are people who have a chance to reach their aspirations, to channel their energies to better themselves and their families. By growing up in a free society, that is how we can

ultimately make sure that our children aren't fighting the war on terror that we are fighting, aren't confronting the kind of awful terrorism we are confronting.

Why does anything that I just said have anything to do with the Oman trade agreement? Well, here, Mr. Speaker, is what it has to do with the Oman trade agreement. With these trade agreements, we don't get just lower tariffs for corn and soybeans and cars and plastics; with these trade agreements, we get good government. With these trade agreements, we get these countries who voluntarily change their rules and their laws to be more free and open to their own people. By engaging in a trade agreement with the United States of America, a country in the Middle East such as Oman, embraces the rule of law, embraces enforceable contracts, individual rights.

Let me just go through a few of the things that Oman has agreed to as a consequence and as a part of this free trade agreement.

Political reforms. Oman has enacted reforms to increase public participation in government, extending voting rights for its consultive council to all citizens over the age of 21, and appointing women to key positions in its government, including the first female Ambassador from an Arab country appointed to serve in the United States. Oman is a leader in women's rights. Oman is a leader in suffrage so that women are treated more equally in the Arab gulf.

Economic reforms. Oman has enacted broad economic reforms to open itself to trade and investment and provide opportunities to its citizens. In fact, the economic freedom of the world 2005 ranks Oman 17 of 127 countries analyzed in terms of economic freedom. They are the second highest ranking among all countries in the proposed Middle East free trade area.

Labor reforms. This is where a lot of progress has been made. Oman has unilaterally, across all labor laws, through decrees and commitments, upgraded their labor standards for their workers, for their employees, for their citizens to at least the ILO core standards. This is the strongest labor agreement, trade agreement, we have ever had with the free trade agreements with the United States.

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Mr. RYAN of Wisconsin. This exceeds the Bahrain agreement because, like Bahrain, Oman agreed not only to the core ILO, International Labor Organization standards and worker rights, but with the Bahrain agreement, Bahrain simply agreed to introduce legislation to their Parliament and then try to pass the legislation, upgrading their labor standards.

Oman went beyond that. Oman agreed to decree, to put these into law. So not only, with Bahrain we got the promise to propose legislation; in Oman we got the law. We got the changes. Changes are taking place right now as we speak. Some changes took place last week. All of the labor standard increases will take place by October 30 of this year. So the fact is with Oman, because of the negotiations of the free trade agreement, we are rising the tide of worker rights. We are rising the quality and openness of this society. We are looking at an ally who has been a tremendous ally in the war on terror. They have ended their Israeli boycotts. They have opened up and are opening up trade with Israel. They are giving women unprecedented rights relative to other Arab countries. And all of this is being done because of trade agreements.

We didn't send a division of soldiers to Oman. We didn't parachute the 82nd Airborne into Oman. We didn't fire a bullet. We didn't put a boot on the ground. We engaged in trade negotiations and trade agreements, and this democratization, this openness, this free economic model, is being embraced by the Omanis because of these trade agreements.

So what we are accomplishing here is the single most important aspect of our war on terror, the single most important aspect of making sure that our children are safe from a world of terror when they reach our age group, when they come of age; and that is, making the Middle East more free, more democratic, more open, so that young people growing up in these countries will have opportunities to pursue their dreams, to pursue their aspirations, to determine the direction of their own lives.

That, in a nutshell is why these agreements are so important in the Middle East. That is why this particular agreement with Oman is so important to pass because of all of the wonderful things they are doing to help their own countrymen, to open up their society, to liberalize their economy, to give people individual rights in their economy so they can reach those dreams, all with an agreement that is in our best interest economically.

It is good for our jobs. We will sell more of American-made equipment. We will sell more American-made agricultural products. We will get more jobs out of the deal, and they will get closer to a much more open society. That, Mr. Speaker, is what I call a win-win situation. That is why I think it is so important that we take all of these wonderful reforms that they have enacted and pass the rest of these into law by implementing this Oman Free Trade Agreement, because it is good for Omanis, it is good for Americans, and it is, most importantly, good for keeping democracy alive in the Middle East, keeping freedom alive, and keeping terrorism at bay.

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Mr. RYAN of Wisconsin. I will. And if the gentleman will yield, I just want to read a quote from the 9/11 Commission report which talked about these FTAs, and the 9/11 Commission which revealed what should America do to win the war on terrorism to make Americans safer again. They said a ``comprehensive U.S. strategy should include economic policies that encourage development, more open societies and opportunities for people to improve the lives of their families and enhance the prospects of their children.'' That is why we should engage in these FTAs, these free trade agreements in the Middle East.

This new breakthrough from Oman on all these higher labor standards that they are raising is precedent setting. It does encourage its neighbors just like Bahrain is now engaging in. It encourages their neighbors to increase not only their standards of labor for their citizens but to increase their citizens' access to prosperity, access to opportunity, access to bettering their lives for themselves. That is what is accomplished by seeing this dialogue take place. That is what is accomplished when we as Americans engage in mutual economic agreements like this.

The thing that also impresses me with the Oman Free Trade Agreement, just like we had with Bahrain and Morocco and others, is our governments are getting to know each other much better. Because we are involved in a global war on terrorism, it inevitably involves a strong level of dialogue between the United States Government and the United States Congress and the governments and the leaders of those countries. But what we are lacking is human-to-human interaction, people-to-people interaction, understanding of the American people, of the citizens of Oman, the citizens of Bahrain, the citizens of Middle Eastern countries.

That is what trade accomplishes. Trade brings people together. Trade brings people into engaging in mutually beneficial endeavors, the people of America, farmers, manufacturers. We make tractors, Case Construction Equipment in Racine, Wisconsin. We sell cheese. We grow corn and soybeans, General Motors cars. We want our people to go to these countries and understand them, know them, sell them their products and have people-to-people interaction. And if we have people-to-people interaction through trade, through business agreements, through business arrangements, then we have better understanding of one another. And better understanding of one another, better friendships will bridge the gaps between cultures. That will help us fundamentally understand what is going on in the Middle East, and it will help them understand us.

My biggest fear is that people in the Arab world, they call it the infamous ``Arab Street,'' that they will look at al Jazeera or VH1 or some distorted lens of what Americans stand for, of who Americans are, of what American culture is, and that is how they will frame their opinions. That is not what I want them to think America is all about. What I hope people in the Arab world think America is all about is by meeting an American, is by meeting somebody from America who can engage in an agreement of mutual economic behavior, who can engage in trade, who can sell corn and soybeans and things like that.

That is how we help bridge this gap, bring understanding of each other, and work together to fighting the war on terror. By bringing moderate Muslim countries in allegiance with us and growing our alliances and growing our strategic allies, we will help defeat the terrorists. The minority of Islamic fundamentalists in this part of the world that seek to do them and us harm, we can work together and defeat that. And what the best consequence of it at the end of the day is people become more prosperous. There are more jobs created at both sides of the ocean, both sides of the equation.

That is why I think this is such an important trade agreement, and that is why this is an important part of our continuing efforts to increase ties and economic engagement with countries in the Middle East. And this is, of all things, one of the most successful foreign-policy tools we have at our disposal, and it is a sign of respect. It shows these countries, Oman in particular, that we respect them. We respect their people. We respect their leaders. We respect the reforms that they are implementing to give their people more freedom. That is a sign of respect, and I think with respect you get better understanding, better allies, and better strategic alliances, and that is all to the good.

I just want to thank the gentleman from Pennsylvania for having this hour to discuss this. We will be voting on this in a couple of days, and this is yet again a very, very important piece of our foreign policy and our economic policy to create more jobs here and to make us more safe. And I just want to thank the gentleman for having this discussion tonight.

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Mr. RYAN of Wisconsin. I think it is important to note the bipartisan nature of these agreements in the past. We had the best vote count of this session of Congress on a trade agreement in the last Bahraini Free Trade Agreement. We passed with large bipartisan votes the Moroccan Free Trade Agreement. We passed with great bipartisan votes the Jordanian Free Trade Agreement. The Oman Free Trade Agreement already passed with a very large bipartisan vote in the other body, the Senate.

We, hopefully, will continue to pass these things with good bipartisan agreements because in this sense it is very important that as we go overseas on an issue that is so important that we speak with one voice, as Democrats and as Republicans, that we make these bipartisan. And I am very pleased with the fact that Congress has for large measure treated these important Middle East free trade agreements on a bipartisan basis. Our caucus includes three Republican cochairmen and three Democrat cochairmen. So I do believe that we will see support from the other side of the aisle. I do not know how big it will be, but it is very important that we speak with one voice, saying it is not just the Republicans who want to do this, it is not just the Democrats. It is that the Americans want to engage in trade with the Middle East countries we are talking about. We want to support their efforts to modernize, their efforts to open, to liberalize their economies. And that to me is a very important signal.

I see that we have been joined by the gentlewoman from Connecticut.

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Mr. RYAN of Wisconsin. I thank the gentleman for yielding. I want to draw off the inspiration I just received from the gentlelady from Connecticut's comments.

As I listened to her give this excellent overview of not only the benefits of these trade agreements, but of this one in particular, of all the work that the Omanis have gone through to bring this up into shape, to increase their worker rights, to increase their transparency, to increase their participation in women's rights, I just couldn't help but thinking, What if we don't pass this? What if we say no? What if we here in the House of Representatives this week say, that is not good enough, sorry, no, to the Omanis?

The Omanis are taking a risk in their neighborhood. They are choosing whether or not to go down the path of the Iranians and the Syrians and others like that, or to go down the path of openness, of freedom, to be an ally with the U.S. in fighting the war on terror and giving people freedom.

What if we say no to that? I just cannot imagine the consequences of us working with this ally of ours, getting them to agree to all of these enormous amounts of reforms and concessions to make this trade agreement work, and then only to say no. That, in my opinion, Madam Speaker, would be a tragedy.

It would be a tragic mistake to say to this country, this ally, these people whom we have the utmost amount of respect for, to say, sorry, partisan politics. It is an election year. Didn't mean to have you as collateral damage, but no. That to me would be an outright tragedy if that happened.

So I want to conclude on a high note, and that high note is just as we helped lift the tide of freedom and economic engagement and economic freedom in Morocco, in Israel, in Jordan, in Bahrain, so too do I think we will do this in Oman this week. And all of that is going to increase U.S. jobs. Yes, it is going to help us sell more products to the region. But, most importantly, it is going to help the people in these countries have a better life. It is going to help them be more free. And that is going to help make sure that my children, my kids, who are 4, 3, and 1 year old, make sure that they live in a peaceful America, that they don't have to fight the fight against terror that we are right now engaged in. That is what this means to me when I put my card in the voting machine and vote on this agreement in a couple of days.

That is why this is so dearly important. That is why this is not just your rank-and-file trade agreement for widgets and corn and dairy or whatever. That is why this is an important trade agreement.

I really encourage all of my colleagues, put the partisan blinders aside for that day and vote with America, vote for your kids, vote for good economics and vote for freedom in the Middle East.

Madam Speaker, with that, I would be happy to conclude and say thank you to the gentleman from Pennsylvania, Mr. English, for all your leadership on this issue. Thank you for hosting this discussion tonight. I think it has been very helpful. I just look forward to making sure this actually occurs, I think on Thursday when we do this.

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